Finally our Police Youth Clubs seem to be getting the recognition and attention they deserve. In previous articles I have sought to highlight the tremendous potential that lies within these community-based groups and hopefully this new wave of interest will be sustained. Last Tuesday for instance, the Siparia Police Youth Club held its first year anniversary at the La Divina Pastora RC Church with both the President and Prime Minister in attendance.
I was privileged to be present at the launch of this club at the Iere High School and since then it has continued to make considerable progress. Credit for this must go to a core group of dedicated parents and police officers under the leadership of the hardworking Sergeant Roger Worrell. State-owned Petrotrin must also be commended for providing much-need support and funding. This is one occasion when the phrase Corporate Social Responsibility is reflected in a meaningful and 'socially responsible' project.
In 1974 the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) established the Trinidad and Tobago Police Youth Club Organisation to 'assist youths in depressed areas in the development of positive and healthy lifestyles'. Since then numerous clubs have been formed in several parts of the country but many have fallen by the wayside mainly due to a lack of funding and poor leadership. Some have remained vibrant and successful including clubs in St James, Roxborough (Tobago),Siparia, Beetham Gardens, Sangre Grande and La Brea. But much more can be done.
The real benefit of Police Youth Clubs lie in the main objectives outlined in the official constitution. These are perhaps more relevant today than they were some 38 years and they include 'preparing the youth for a positive role in the nation's development' and 'providing an effective machinery through which the youth would appreciate the value of good discipline, self respect and respect for others'. These objectives sound remarkably similar to those of the newly imported Character Education and Citizenry Development Programme for primary schools. It is indeed a great pity that we continue to look overseas for solutions that are readily available right here. If only we could have greater confidence in our people and their inherent wisdom. In fact the Police Youth Clubs could be more effective than the foreign programme since its mandate includes youngsters who are outside the school system
In addition, these clubs are already embedded in the social fabric of the community and have a legitimacy that any new entity would need to acquire before it can operate. Together with community-based organisations like the steelband, Police Youth Clubs have a 'Social License' to operate in their respective communities. Project management best-practice emphasises the importance of gaining community approval (the Social License) before a project can be successfully implemented. While the theory focuses primarily on industrial development it has relevance for all types of projects including new traffic plans and new police initiatives.
If the Police Service wishes to build closer relationships with the communities in which it operates then a more enlightened approach to Police Youth Clubs should be considered. To this end they may wish to look at the Australian model where the institution is referred to as a Police Community Youth Club highlighting the important role it plays in police/community relations.
My interest in Police Youth Clubs began some years ago when I was involved in a social impact study in La Brea. It was a bit of a surprise when I discovered that, despite difficult circumstances, the La Brea Police Youth Club was still seen by residents as having an important role in youth development. These findings were reinforced in another survey last year which showed that a majority of parents supported the Police Youth Club in their area because it gave their children "positive things to do" as well as "self- discipline and a good attitude". In short residents were convinced that the Police have a valuable role to play in reaching out to the youths before they get into a life of crime.
I had a similar experience at the Couva West Secondary School when the Couva Police Youth Club was launched last year. There was a surprisingly large turnout of parents and children and the organisers had to hurriedly seek additional seating. Almost every parent who spoke at the meeting asked the police to become more involved in community development especially at the youth level. Another state enterprise NGC has since agreed to support the Couva club which is led by Inspector Chunilal Bedassie. NGC also sponsors the La Brea Police Youth Club. This alliance with the business sector is important since in addition to funding the sector can assist with managerial oversight and institutional strengthening.
There are also valuable synergies to be derived from partnerships between Police Youth Clubs and other community groups. When La Brea Nightingales electrified the Panorama semi-finals at the Savannah this year, many of the pannists came from the ranks of the La Brea Police Youth Club.
In the final analysis it is for the Police Service to recognise the full potential of Police Youth Clubs and ensure that the officers assigned are properly trained and receive full support. A modern network of well-organised, well-funded clubs working in close collaboration with the communities can do more for the image of the Police Service than any expensive advertising campaign.
• Richard Braithwaite is a